More famous for his multi-million selling ballads, in 1970 Ken Dodd assembled an army of tiny high-pitched treacle miners to record a bizarre comic album that brought Diddymen marching into the homes of children everywhere.
Ken Dodd and the Diddymen,
As I survey my record collection, I often let go a plaintive remorseful sigh as I realise that Ken Dodd is to blame for a lot of it. I don’t meant by that that he has recorded most of the records I own, there are a fair few admittedly, but Ken Dodd is most definitely to blame for the existence of many of them. Through his immense multi-million selling success as a recording artist, the shock-haired comic goblin from Liverpool gave hope to each and every subsequent less than attractive comedian who fancied themselves as a heart-throb crooner or an earnest balladeer. When I wonder what Dick Emery or Bernard Manning were thinking of when they recorded albums of heart-wrenching love songs instead of silly songs about mothers-in-law and naughty vicars complete with comic sound effects, it all comes back to Ken Dodd. If someone so grotesque looking and unlikely could become a hit singer then why not Manning or Emery or anyone else for that matter?
Well, it’s probably because Ken Dodd could actually sing if I’m honest, not something that ever seemed to trouble Bernard Manning. Dodd possesses an amazing singing voice that lends itself to crooning and Ken’s records melted many a housewife’s heart back in the 1960s. His voice was so strong that an entire generation of women were prepared to overlook both his bizarre appearance and his habit of goosing people with a tickling stick to buy his records by the lorry load. His big hit was the track Tears which sold many millions of copies and which hung around the charts for over five months denying the likes of more youthful ‘with it’ acts like Manfred Mann a number one hit.
Even now Tears is still the 23rd best-selling UK single of all time, comfortably outselling many other mega-hits that seemed to linger in the charts for ages such as Celine Dion’s Titantic-themed sob-fest My Heart Will Go On and Whitney Houston’s brutal merciless murdering of the Dolly Parton track I Will Always Love You. He even outsold most of The Beatles’ singles and makes the likes of Michael Jackson, Elvis and The Spice Girls look like third-rate tribute acts. Ken didn’t manage to achieve anywhere near the sales of Barbie Girl by Aqua, but it’s probably best to gloss over that entirely. Pop can be an ugly business.
Tears was only one of eighteen charting singles that Ken Dodd released in the fifteen years from 1960 to 1975 (there were many others), but he did not neglect his comedy career either. His BBC series The Ken Dodd Show ran from 1959 to 1969 and cemented much of what became Ken’s comedy trademarks in the popular imagination.
It’s probably fair to say that Ken Dodd lives in a world of his own. I know that is a phrase that is often heard, but with Ken Dodd it really is true. Born in the east Liverpool suburb of Knotty Ash in 1927 (and yes that is a real place), Ken Dodd has made his birthplace famous more for what isn’t there than was is actually there. Yes, there is an ash tree (planted by Ken in 2004) but the once innocuous settlement is also, in Ken Dodd’s imagination at least, home to such bizarre sights as the treacle mines, the gravy pools, a well-stocked moggie ranch and a number of fragrant snuff quarries. He also seems to have created his own vocabulary with words such as ‘tattifilarious’ and ‘plumpshious’ regularly finding their way into his rambling comic monologues. And, like fellow fantasist JRR Tolkien before him, Ken Dodd also created a race of tiny people to work deep in the jam butty mines. Step forward The Diddymen.
A regular feature in Ken’s act for many years, the Diddymen were awarded their own spin-off series from The Ken Dodd Show in 1969. The Diddymen were a grotesque high-pitched group of dwarves in absurdly tall hats, many of whom bore more than a passing resemblance to Ken himself. Most of the time the Diddymen were conventional string puppets created by the Southport puppeteer Roger Stevenson but Ken was not above assembling a troupe of midgets and skilfully disguised children to march around singing if he ever felt the need. Nowadays there are probably a great many laws preventing such exploitation, but in the early 1970s anything went.
This record is a snapshot of that time, there are no actual children or midgets on the album (sadly) but there are plenty of Ken Dodds singing along, speeded up versions of his voice trilling away in gleeful harmony and in various regional accents. The album is aimed squarely at children and is fairly annoying like many children’s albums of the period. If you are a fan of speeded up singing, a genre pioneered by the likes of Pinky and Perky, then you’ll love this. If, like the majority of the population of the planet over the age of five, you find such silliness grating then you’ll probably never make it past side one of the album.
Annoying as the album is though it is a recording of Ken Dodd being funny, as opposed to Ken Dodd being a serious romantic balladeer, singing his heart out for some long lost love. There are many amusing moments , but you do really need to embrace Ken’s madness and willingly enter his world rather than drive past as fast as possible with the windows wound up. Here as a taster is How’ya Diddlin’ a track which may or may not have inspired Alexei Sayle, another famous Scouse comedian, many years later when he needed a catchphrase for his character Bobby Chariot. From a more innocent age when Ken Dodd’s diddling didn’t arouse the suspicions of the Inland Revenue here he is doddling and diddling with the Diddymen:
Ken Dodd, perpetually touring somewhere near you soon: